What to Know About Telehealth for Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, and one of the costliest and most time-consuming chronic conditions to treat. Controlling heart disease requires ongoing and close medication and symptom management, and that can mean frequent visits to the doctor's office, hospital, and testing center. Telehealth offers options for people with heart disease to easily manage these appointments at home, including through video visits and phone calls. Few people used telehealth before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, but new data have revealed that telehealth use increased by as much as 3,000% from October 2019 to October 2020.

heart disease telehealth

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When to Use Telehealth for Heart Disease

Managing heart disease can be time-consuming. Appointments take time away from work or other obligations. Frequent visits may be required, and your condition often is managed by a specialist—like a cardiologist—who may not be located in your community. Telehealth can save travel time for patients to and from appointments.

Telehealth can be used to manage heart disease in the following situations:

  • For routine appointments, your doctor can still see you and monitor your vital signs like temperature and blood pressure.
  • You can discuss any new symptoms and medication side effects with your doctor.
  • Your doctor can conduct lifestyle counseling and risk-factor modification.
  • Your doctor can review data or test results with you and discuss your condition.
  • Your doctor can offer to authorize prescription medications for you to pick up or have delivered from your local pharmacy.
  • During flu season or when other infectious diseases pose an increased risk, you can limit your exposure to illnesses that could make your heart disease worse.

You May Need to Be Seen in Person If...

There are some situations where your heart disease is better managed through a traditional in-office visit with your doctor, including:

  • When you are newly diagnosed or switching providers
  • When there is a significant change in your condition
  • After a recent hospitalization or surgery
  • When you have multiple other conditions that can affect your heart disease
  • When you need testing, imaging, or blood work done
  • After major medication changes

Benefits and Challenges

One of the most immediate benefits of using telehealth to manage heart disease is time savings. Check-ins with your specialist via telehealth are quick, and you can save yourself the time of commuting to and from an in-person appointment, waiting to be seen at your doctor's office, and losing accrued personal time from work to see your doctor.

Telehealth can even improve outcomes for people with a chronic condition like heart disease. Ways that telehealth can help include:

  • Improved monitoring of and adherence to medication and treatment plans
  • Offering more frequent check-ins than in-person visits can allow to discuss lifestyle changes like diet and exercise
  • Allowing your providers to see your living situation and giving you an opportunity to identify any challenges you may have in accessing care or meeting treatment goals
  • Reducing exposure to infectious diseases and, for those with mobility problems, the risk of injury by leaving the home
  • Ease of scheduling helps doctors and patients establish regular contact to implement timely interventions when conditions change

Limitations of Telehealth

There are times when a telehealth visit may not be enough for someone with heart disease. Although coverage for telehealth visits expanded significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with most Medicare, Medicaid, and many private insurance plans expanding reimbursements for these services, if you have no health insurance, you will likely have to pay out-of-pocket rates for your telehealth visits.

Technology also can be difficult to navigate for some people, and some may not have a stable Internet connection to utilize telehealth to manage their condition.

You should not consider a telehealth visit if you suddenly develop or have worsening of any of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Limb swelling

These symptoms may be a sign that your condition needs immediate medical attention. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should go to the nearest emergency medical center or call 911.

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Heart Disease

If you are interested in using telehealth services to manage your heart disease, you should first contact your cardiologist or healthcare provider to see if they offer their services through telehealth. Many providers who previously hadn't offered telehealth services expanded their offerings during the COVID-19 pandemic. If your doctor doesn't offer telehealth services and it is important to you to be seen in this way, you can ask for a referral to a provider who does offer telehealth services, or you can ask your doctor to consider adding them.

If you haven't had a telehealth appointment with your doctor before, you will want to prepare before your first visit by doing the following:

  • Understand the costs, including any insurance co-pays and deductible limits and how you will pay for your visit.
  • Find out what information your provider will want from you.
  • Be aware of what privacy and security measures are in place to protect your health information.
  • Find out what technology platforms and devices are used, and be sure you have the right tools in place.

When it's time for your appointment to begin, you should treat it just as you would an in-person visit, with a few special considerations:

  • Find a private space for your appointment where there will be no distractions and you and your provider can focus on the visit.
  • Make sure there is plenty of light so the provider can see you clearly.
  • Have available a list of your current symptoms and medications.
  • Be ready to discuss any changes in your condition, new symptoms, new medications, and other relevant information since your last visit.
  • Work through any language or communication barriers that might arise, such as the need for an interpreter, family member, or caregiver to be present.
  • Check that your device works, you have the correct link for your appointment, and you understand how to connect with your provider.
  • Close extra browser windows or tabs to make sure the application you are using for your appointment works well.
  • Check the strength of your Internet connection in the space you intend to take the appointment.
  • Be sure your battery is fully charged or your device is plugged in before your visit begins.
  • Keep the camera of your phone or computer at eye level during the appointment.
  • Wear loose clothing or make sure you can show parts of your body to your provider, if needed, during the appointment.
  • If you have home monitoring tools like a pulse oximeter or blood pressure cuff, keep them nearby during your appointment.
  • Prepare a list of questions to ask during your appointment.

What Happens During the Visit

When you schedule a telehealth visit with your provider, you should be given instructions on how to log on and a link to use. You should be prepared to begin your appointment at the designated time. Here's what may happen next:

  • You may be prompted to go through checks of your video and sound connection.
  • Once your connection is confirmed, you will be placed in a virtual waiting room.
  • If you have remote monitoring devices, your provider may ask you to use them to provide information like oxygen level, temperature, or blood pressure.
  • Your provider will then perform an exam, walking you through what to do for the assessment. You may be asked to cough, breathe deeply, or zoom in on certain physical features or body parts.
  • When the assessment is complete, your provider may discuss any treatments or follow-ups that are required,
  • At the end of the visit, your provider should issue a summary of their findings and recommendations for prescriptions or other treatments.
  • Your doctor may also order additional tests that you should get done before your next appointment, like an echocardiogram (echo) or electrocardiogram (ECG).
  • You should also be given instructions on what to do if recommended treatments do not resolve your problems or if your symptoms get worse.
  • You may be asked to schedule your next appointment.

A Word From Verywell

Heart disease can be a difficult condition to manage. In many cases, heart disease is progressive and requires major lifestyle adjustments and frequent visits with a specialist. For people with mobility problems or who have limited access to healthcare facilities in their area, telehealth is a great way to keep up with the care needed to manage heart disease in a way that's both effective and convenient. If you have a sudden change in your condition between visits or while you are waiting for an appointment, don't delay treatment. Changes in cardiac conditions can be both sudden and life-threatening, and often require immediate medical care.

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Article Sources
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